John lounges casually in comfy horseshoe-shaped confines of one of Woolsey’s office’s guest chairs. Sans his gear, making him even more comfortable in the cushy seat with his arms lazily draped over the arcing armrests that come perfectly just below his shoulder height with one of his legs balancing on the knee of the other. Every once in awhile his airborne foot bounces from his relaxed boredom. Woolsey also looks far more relaxed sitting behind his desk than when John and his team first returned through the gate. The leader leans on his desk with his elbows sitting on top and his arms steepled so that his loosely clasped hands rest underneath his chin. John makes himself a mental note to ask about what the hell happened here while he and his team and their fifth were gone that put Woolsey, the security detail, and a majority of the city on edge and that John and his team or Kenmore hadn’t been contacted about. But John’ll save that for later, right now it’s finishing up the debrief of the most super boring mission that he’s ever experienced the entire time he’s been in this galaxy let alone the entire time he’s been with the Stargate Program period. For once Sheppard had wanted something to jump out of the forest at them, but…
“…so all we did was check out the forest,” his foot’s bouncing again, “There’d been a rainfall recently so the ground was muddy and that and the dead growth made for a fun trek, especially with McKay. There wasn’t any animal life. No bird life. No fish because we weren’t finding any water sources other than the rain. Just forest, forest, forest.
“And from what McKay was getting on the lifesigns detector, even with Kenmore’s help on making the detector do more things we didn’t know it could do, and with Teyla and Ronon’s knowledge of plants, the plants aren’t hazardous in any way, shape, or form and they aren’t helpful in just as many ways also. So nothing. A big, fat nothing.” The end. Can I go get some dinner now?
Woolsey remains leaning forward on his desk top, “What is your verdict then, do we strike the planet from our database or should we consider further exploration?”
John doesn’t hesitate, “I vote for further exploration.”
Woolsey tilts his head, clearly that wasn’t what the man had expected to hear. The skin between Woolsey’s eyebrows pinch. John senses he has to explain.
“Because there’s nothing of interest there either for food or anything else to the Wraith let alone anything dangerous to humans as far as we can tell, I say the planet merits a more in-depth second check-up than we gave it. Its name could go on the lists for potential Alpha, Beta, or even Gamma sites that choice is up to you guys.”
Richard Woolsey nods, “Thank you, Colonel.”
John thinks about getting up—
“I have something else to ask you about your mission other than its actual priority.”
—and John forgets about it. He hopes the roiling he feels in his stomach doesn’t make itself heard. Too loudly. On the other hand, his stomach growling that loudly might be the clue to Woolsey to let John go and for them to finish discussing this later if at all…along with particular subject matter of whatever no one’s telling him about and has spooked them all into don’t-speak-till-spoken-to silence.
“What,” Sheppard asks, trying hard to keep the sigh out of his voice. It’s Taquito Tuesday and the guys in the Mess actually make really damn good taquitos. Crispy fried tortillas with the most luscious beef filling John’s ever tasted. With salsa and guacamole on the side for God’s sake. Please, please can he go grab a handful before McKay or Ronon have eaten the place out of stock of the golden fried delights.
“How did your team interactions go?”
Okay, that one is a reasonable request considering the problems with that ever since Kenmore first stepped foot in the city. And it’s something he can answer quickly.
“Pretty good, actually,” and John isn’t lying, “Kenmore stuck mostly with Rodney because of the detector thing and the rest of us just sort of spread out and covered them.”
“’Mostly’?” Woolsey repeats.
Sheppard hoped he wouldn’t catch that. Damn.
“Yeah, uh, Kenmore and Ronon kind of, sort of, butted heads a little.”
“Was everyone covering both Doctor McKay and Lieutenant Kenmore?”
John stays silent. His once bouncing foot not bouncing anymore.
“Well, considering that no one had to report to the Infirmary upon your return, I take it that neither of them hurt the other,” Woolsey goes on. Yet…
“No, no,” the team leader quickly tries to douse the fire, “none of that. They just kept picking a fight with each other like normal.”
“Hey, it’s not like Ronon doesn’t have a reason.”
“Her presence on the team is not a good enough reason, Colonel.”
John opens his mouth to add that Kenmore isn’t exactly an easy person to get along with…the fact that Ronon isn’t either wasn’t something he was going to mention, but Woolsey speaks again, cutting him off, “And that is not something that is going to change ever, Colonel Sheppard. Your team members are just going to have to get used to that. All of you.”
John narrows his eyes at the man. “It’s not just her being there, she isn’t exactly a nice person to get along with in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“I have noticed. And I have also noticed that she has the same attitude about this as Ronon does. Like I said ‘All of you’. They are both not exactly nice people to get along with.”
John reluctantly nods. Elizabeth Weir had the same thing to say and the same reservations about Ronon when he first came to Atlantis and John first broached her about letting the standoffish Satedan on his team. And after her came Colonel Samantha Carter, who had the same problem with Ronon, brought in her Jaffa friend and former SG-1 teammate Teal’c to help with smoothing Ronon’s rough edges in order to make him more presentable to the I.O.A. and make people more comfortable around him. A Wraith invasion of Stargate Command that both Ronon and Teal’c took care of had solved that last problem, but Ronon was still… Ronon. Tall, dark, and surly.
Woolsey does have a point, not one that John likes, but it’s a point coming from his Commanding Officer in this situation and it’s one he concedes to the validity of. Begrudgingly.
“We’ll work on it.” John answers.
“See that you do.” Woolsey reaffirms.
There’s a slight pneumatic hiss as the glass office door behind Sheppard slides open for Chuck Campbell. Woolsey sits up at the young experienced man’s grim expression.
“Sir, we’re receiving a radio transmission from one of our offworld teams.”
Woolsey gets to his feet and comes around his desk as Chuck turns on his heels and Sheppard stands up. Chuck leads them back to the Command Center as Woolsey charges across the gangway with Sheppard right behind him. As they enter the incredibly dark and starkly lit Operations Center operating under midnight conditions, Richard Woolsey looks over at the Stargate.
“The Stargate isn’t activated. How are we getting a radio transmission?”
Chuck answers as he retakes his seat at the DHD station, “The Daedalus is patching it through to us.”
Richard Woolsey nods and stands next to Chuck’s DHD/communications console. Campbell checks his computer then looks up at Woolsey and nods.
“This is Richard Woolsey. To whom am I speaking to?”
A sharp burst of static shatters the quiet. Technicians and engineers around the room wince and squirm at the riotous volume shock. The radio signal is saturated with static and other stellar background noise due to being transmitted through a long stretch of outer space. Through it all though, barely loud enough to be heard is a man’s voice.
“I, uh, my name’s Airman Harold Lewis, Ss-Sir.”
Richard Woolsey’s brows furrow as the rest of Sheppard’s team quietly file into Ops. Rodney bringing along with him his girlfriend, Atlantis’ Chief Medical Officer Doctor Jennifer Keller. Kenmore arriving with Major Lorne, both newly returned from their flight practice and she originally headed to the Gateroom to pick her son up from school on New Athos. Teyla and Ronon coming from the Mess Hall and their dinners, she from a moment of peace with her family and he from a moment’s peace alone. The West Pier staff also arrives without a single scuffle of shoe. Rob and Brad leading the procession that spreads out against the back wall of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed stained glass. Peter and Alan are missing their jackets, left behind in their quarters where they were getting ready for a night’s sleep. Peter’s hair is still wet from the shower he’d taken just before bed. Joe and Paul looking as they have all day long, no one would guess that one had come from a late dinner with his Japanese girlfriend and the other from sitting in his quarters reading letters from home. Martin’s eyes can’t get themselves up from the floor. And Carl has his stress ball in his hand. Word has clearly quickly spread throughout the city to its key people.
Richard swears something’s wrong with the transmission, more than simple static over a radio. “What’s going on, Airman,” his tone softening somewhat to accommodate.
The weak transmission’s severe static pops a few times and suddenly goes silent. Then comes back. Then goes silent again, the threat of breaking up breaking in. But…
“The, the Wraith are culling the planet, Sir.”
Looks go around the room among the technicians sitting at their stations, but the eyes of those standing are zeroed in on the communications station.
Richard turns to Chuck, “Can the Wraith track the signal here to Atlantis?”
Chuck shakes his head, “No, Sir. The Daedalus had barely registered the transmission in the first place. They’re currently boosting it to its maximum gain in order for us to receive it. It’s doubtful that the Wraith will be able to intercept any part of it.”
“The, the Wraith have activated the Stargate and are holding it,” the Airman’s voice tells them.
There’s another burst of static and Richard catches something out of place in it again. He leans forward to the speaker, putting his hands on the cool consoles textured edges.
“Airman, where are you exactly and I’m not talking about what planet you’re on?”
“We, we, uh, we’ve found some sort of abandoned Ancient building underground, Sir. We were trying to help get some villagers get away through the forest and C.O. accidentally fell through some weak ground in the forest. None of the villagers fell down with him, but, uh, he, uh… Sergeant Thomas and I fell too.” There were a lot of breaks in there for pauses not caused by transmission problems.
“And what’s happening now,” Richard asks. Hoping to get more information to piece the puzzle together.
“We fell about forty feet, I think. C.O. broke his hip, we think, and the Sarge is, is trying to help him as best he can. The Lieutenant is still up on the surface. He says that Wraith drones are closing in on our position.”
Wide scared eyes look to from one seat to another around the room. Jennifer seeks comfort in the arms of her boyfriend. He needs it too, Rodney wraps his arms around her and lowers his chin onto the top of her shoulder. She holds onto his hands joined over her chest, pressing her ear against his cheek. They hold each other tight. Ursula subtly reaches her hand over and takes Evan’s hand in hers. Together they maintain the careful military guise of stoicism with the internal emotions of listening to comrades in trouble and not being able to help being kept strictly at bay. Just like John with his fists clenched tightly by his sides. In between he and them though are Ronon and Teyla and neither look stoic. They reflect the emotion no one’s letting out. There are tears threaten to spill from Teyla’s eyes as her taut cheek muscles flex beneath her smooth skin and Ronon looks like he’s going to punch something anything, he wants to activate the Stargate and go barreling into to battle to save these people. Pain, fear, and anguish at not being able to help friends or even innocents in the face of encroaching Wraith. It’s the story of their galaxy.
In the background, like shadows, Rob, Brad, Peter, Alan, Joe, Paul, Marty, and Carl have remained stock still. The demeanor betrays no emotion, but if anyone looked closer, they’d see the emotion swirling in their eyes. The glassiness covering every pair of browns and blues. In a way, it looks like they’re waiting at attention.
“Sarge told me to scout the area and I found a communications room. I got one of the transmitters working with my shoulder radio.”
Richard nods at the speaker, “Good work, that’s extremely good work. And quick thinking, Airman.”
There’s a pause over the transmission and they can hear the bombardment. The muffled sound of pounding thuds followed by the just as muffled but no less distinctive ratta-tat-tat of returning P-90 fire. Wherever the kid is in the structure, the battle is getting closer to him if it wasn’t over his head. For a horrible moment they fear that their link to the attack has left the radio open.
“Than-thank you, Sir.”
There it is again. That strangeness. Richard has to ask, “Airman, are you alright?”
There’s another pause of static…
“I, uh, I hit my head on the, on some rotten scaffolding on the way down, Sir.”
Jennifer gasps as Rodney looks distantly down at the floor in front of her feet. Teyla leaves. She moves from Ronon and John’s side to stand beside Richard Woolsey as the knuckles of Evan and Ursula’s joined hands steadily turn white. John’s squeezes his clenched fists tighter, forming his own white knuckles. Ronon remains still, tense and taut in his own quiet rage at the situation and his own personal familiarity with futility. It sounds just like it had inside the hospital when the Wraith attacked Sateda and he’d gone to the hospital to get…
Richard’s eyes pull away from the grave sight of the people gathered around him and returns to the speaker broadcasting the airman’s voice throughout the room. He had tried to seek solace in his senior staff standing guard in the nighttime shadows at the back of the room but they weren’t giving him anything except for making him stand on his own two feet as the leader of this city and its people. He begins, “What are your injuries?”
“My head is bleeding.”
Richard focuses on the speaker, “Have you received medical treatment for it?”
“Uh, no, Sir, but I, uh, I do have some gauze pads in my vest. But I can’t open the packages without letting go of the transmitting button on my radio.”
“Mister Lewis, tend to your wounds. It’s alright, I’ll stay on the line.”
They get a long pause in reply. Despite the transmitting button supposedly not being pressed, they can hear movement on the other end. Rustling. Heavy breathing. Obviously reluctant to tend to himself while maintaining contact with homebase, the airman must still be holding down the transmitting button. He must be scared that if he breaks the connection he won’t be able to get it back again, his fingers will have slipped off of his team’s only lifeline.
Richard looks to Chuck.
Quickly Chuck leans over and whispers, “That’s most likely due to the Ancient communications device the airman’s radio is connected to.”
Richard nods, not entirely sure he buys that excuse from someone else who isn’t right there with the airman and doesn’t know the reality for sure. He returns his attention to waiting and listening for the speaker to answer him. The rustling continues. Or at least it sounds like it could be rustling. It might be a continuation of the disruptive static. Suddenly there’s a huge boom over the other end of the radio. Richard’s hands white knuckle the edge of the computer console.
Nothing. Not even rustling anymore. Static.
Hiss. Crackle. Pop.
Richard Woolsey’s head snaps to Chuck, “Is the Daedalus capable of getting to them?”
Chuck didn’t have to check any of the computers or the technicians around him to answer. He shakes his head, “No, Sir. They’re still experiencing problems with their shields. They wouldn’t last a moment in a firefight with a fully functioning hiveship. The Daedalus really is doing all they can just by relaying the signal at maximum to Atlantis.”
Richard nods, the muscles in every part of his body tightening with the news.
Another boom. Then another. And another come over the weak radio signal. Strangely, to Richard, it sounds like the steady drumming of a courtroom’s gavel… then the clear and distinct screech of a dart. Muffled but undeniable. The storm is getting closer to the airman.
“Airman,” Richard demands urgently.
“Yes, yes, Sir?”
“What’s going on now?”
“We, uh, we lost contact with Lieutenant Sheen on the surface. The, uh, the Wraith bombardment has started a forest fire. Some of the debris is falling through the hole on Major Aaron and Sergeant Thomas.”
Richard looks around but never up. His eyes move from side to side, focusing on nothing, not even the console he’s holding on to. He can see that he’s not shaking but he feels like he is. How can this be possible? How can this be happening? Is it a new rise in Wraith aggression towards humans for the five Stargates going down? Did the Wraith even know the gates had gone down temporarily? How? Their followers, the first worshippers? So many questions, so few answers… and a young man on the other end of a radio in the middle of it all. Or rather, with all of it bearing down on him and the rest of his team, his senior officers.
“C.O. and the Sarge are trying to fig-figure out a way to move further into this building. Away from the hole without further injuring him. But, but they’re, they’re not… having any luck.”
Richard doesn’t know what to do. He’s never, how do you… His eyes aren’t moving from side to side anymore, but he still isn’t focusing on anything. Still feeling like he’s shaking all over. He’s at a loss. What can he d—there is nothing he can do, is there? For once in this galaxy, for once in his leadership, there is nothing he nor anyone else can do. No flagship team that’ll pull through in the clutch. No friendly ship that’ll suddenly show up to do the exact same thing… But there is something he can do.
Richard Woolsey turns and finds a spare chair nearby. He pulls it over to him. And sits down right next to the speaker.
“Airman, the Daedalus experienced problems with the Genii today. She has no shields to go up against a Wraith hiveship and with the Stargate on your planet still being used by the Wraith, we can’t dial in any help for you.”
Static rattled silence takes over for a moment then…
“I understand, Sir.”
Richard takes in a deep inhale.
“I’m going to stay on the line with you as long as the transmission holds.” Teyla steps closer and puts a hand on Richard’s shoulder. She rubs her thumb against his body, applies a gentle squeeze of pressure, and he feels the surging comfort of her presence with him.
They hear the muffled screeching of more darts. More bass booms of Wraith fire slamming down on the planet surface. More static with no answer.
“Hang on, Airman Lewis,” Richard looks at the speaker, “Tell me more about yourself, like if you mind if I call you Harold?”
Still no answer. The hissing of the radio static is getting to him, “Airman Lewis?”
“No, no, I don’t mind if you call me Har-Harold, Sssir.”
Richard would smile to himself if it weren’t so obvious that Harold’s head wound’s damage was getting far more serious. It was either that or blood loss. Either was not good. Both mean that he’s running out of time physically.
“I, I’m nineteen, Sir,” Harold volunteers.
Richard closes his eyes and hears Jennifer sniff a sob back quietly. Teyla’s grip intensifies on his shoulder. He can feel the tears brimming in her eyes.
“And I, uh, mmm, I’m from Phil-Phila… Philadelphia.”
“So am I. Every time I’m back in East Passyunk, I go to Pat’s.”
“Yeah,” Harold breathes airily, a try to laugh, “They really are the King of Steaks.”
“Says so on the sign. I get a one wiz with.”
“I, I, it’sss a one provolone without for me. I-I-I’m not big on, on… on fffried onions.”
Dick laughs airily too.
Bombardment filled static takes over again.
…“I, I, I’m uh-uh-afraid of the dark.”
Never before has anyone from this Expedition ever sounded so young and so much like a boy rather than a man. Combat asks so much of a soldier that you forget that they’re someone’s child. You forget sometimes that the young ones still are children.
“Is it dark, Harold,” Dick asks.
“Yeah,” comes the breathy reply, “But I, uh, I’m using… mmm-my lifffesssigns… d-d-d-detector asss uh nigh,” a breath, “nighttttlightt.”
An admiring smile spreads across Dick’s mouth even as the thought comes to him, Time is so fleeting. “Good thinking again, Harold.”
“Than… thank you, Sssir.”
“Call me Dick.”
“First, your shoulder radio, now, your lifesigns detector. How did you learn to be this creative, Harold?”
“I-I-Itt wass my, my Dddad. He, uh… he use-used to fix-sss cars.”
Dick keeps listening and keeps replying. Staying by Harold’s side until the whole world goes dark.
To say that this was an easy one to write would be a lie. I didn’t think it would move me, but I cried as I wrote the Epilogue, on two drafts. After one of the drafts, I went to my mother, still tearful mess, hugged her and thanked her for being a soldier. When I started thinking of a one-off episode, I really didn’t have anything in mind. It wasn’t until I bought a used copy of the television series The West Wing’s First Season that I got the inspiration to do a behind-the-scenes look at the people behind the operation of Atlantis, the personnel other than Sheppard, his team, or Woolsey and Jennifer. In doing this, certain people had to feature heavily. Some we know already like Doctor Radek Zelenka, Major Evan Lorne, and Colonel Steven Caldwell, but other personnel I had to create. For this I looked to many sources. The first were the actual writing staff of Stargate Atlantis. I’ve embodied them here as the Atlantis Expedition Commander’s Senior Staff, the power and the people behind the throne, so to speak. Secondly, I turned to the fans. Some I’ve met only through blogs and Gateworld.net and others I’ve met at Stargate Conventions. As I write this, I’ve learned that this same day that those conventions will be coming to an end. It seemed fitting that my mindset of loss was the one I had when writing the final draft of the Epilogue of this story. To all fans who’ve lost something, at this moment, I feel we all have… except for Gateworld.net. And to Joe Mallozzi who, when I informed him about the impending loss of the convention circuit for Stargate fans, replied to me that it’s time for an old fashioned fan-driven con, I thoroughly agree! And so I dive into the rest of the acknowledgments for contributions to this story, I’ll be going in story chronological order. First thanks goes to Ben Wilcox, a convention friend. Welcome to the canon of Stargate Atlantis! Kudos my friend. Woo-whoo! And thank you for keeping in touch beyond the days of the convention. Enormous gratitude to Patricia Stewart-Bertrand, one of this blog’s followers and the namesake of the character. When looking for characters to flesh out the other personnel of Atlantis’ Expedition, I couldn’t think of any people more deserving than the very people who made the show the success it was and still is: the fans. Patricia is also a member of the Stargate fan group known as the Wormhole Riders (for more information go to their website at www.wormholeriders.com). It’s fans like her and the rest of us that keep the franchise’s flame alive and the Stargate always open. Thank you for your contribution to this story. Hopefully, Doc, you’ll feature in more stories as will Ben. In giving Adame and consequently the Kelore character from the Stargate Atlantis Season Five episode “Inquisition” the last name of Va’lar, I didn’t have to look far. Va’lar is a direct reference to the actor David Lovgren’s, who portrayed Kelore, Stargate SG-1 character named Va’lar in the episode “Threshold”. It actually makes for pretty cool full name. The name of the Airman that features in the Epilogue of this story is actually the same name of the same sort of character in the West Wing episode “The State Dinner” from which this scene is derived. It’s a blatant homage to the television series for which this entire story is based. Thank you Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme for this inspired series that I thought would be the best possible representation of what a behind-the-scenes look at Atlantis would be like. Still one of the most emotional moments for me when watching that series is when Mrs. Landingham tells Charlie Young about why she’s sad at Christmas. It’s because her twin boys died in Vietnam around Christmas time and she can’t help feeling both then and now that her two little boys needed their mother and she couldn’t be there with them. It’s truly haunting and something I think gets lost during every war: these soldiers are always someone’s children. May we always remember that. And honor it as well as them. Finally, I give my thanks to Robert C. Cooper, Brad Wright, Peter DeLuise, Allan McCullough, Joe Mallozzi (and Akemi), Paul Mullie, Martin Gero, and Carl Binder and a shout out to Martin Wood, Ivon Bartok and Lawerence (Joe and Paul know who he is as do anyone who follows Joe’s blog). You are the writers who created this fantastic universe that every week and, when they came out on DVD, every day we love to spend time in, really, we wallow in our time in everything Stargate. All fans, no matter what we may say, owe you a huge debt of gratitude because if it wasn’t for your writing of Stargate Atlantis let alone Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Universe, we would not have had this franchise to indulge in. Thank you. And welcome to the canon of Stargate in a different way than you had in it before. Thanks.